January 25, 2010KR BlogKR

Nose in a Book

If the garbage is open when I’m downstairs, I can’t concentrate. This is easy: close the lid, back to work. Now the writer upstairs is using a citrus & patchouli soap that I recognize, so I eat a clementine. Someone (remember, I’m staying here) always has garlic & onions frying up in olive oil, so now I have to get another snack, salty this time.


I wonder, with this degree of scent sensitivity, why I don’t have a totemic writerly aroma, a smell that signals the start of work, or that spirits me to the good, getting-stuff-done stage sooner. Lots of writers use music in this way–as a cue to the world they’re attempting to create, or as a distraction from the one they’re actually living in. I play parts of In the Aeroplane Over the Sea before nearly every writing session, and if the reader leaves my (lets-hope-it-actually-becomes-a-) novel feeling half as moved and astonished as I do when I listen to this song, I’ll have done my job.

This guide to using aromatherapy to “promote health & productivity,” pitched to administrators, offers suggestions: “Perform a poll. Ask your employees what smells they remember most from their childhood“Purchase diffusers and strategically place them in common areas such as conference rooms [or] the employee break room.” What weird advice for a workplace. Am I missing some link between nostalgia and decreased fakeworking? If you are reading this at the office, I beg you, ask your coworkers what smells most readily conjure their childhoods. Why does the lounge smell like motor oil? The waiting room like egg salad and sleeping bag. The unisex bathroom like My Little Ponies when you rubbed them: sweetly medicinal, purplishpinkishblue.


Perhaps it would be wise just to start with a smell that makes me want to stay in my seat. A writer here met with a local medium a month ago. She explained that when discussing writing, and feeling stuck, the medium told her that the spirits around her need to be trained to enjoy the work as well. If you’re always trudging to the desk thinking, Oh this is so hard, oh, god I’m so awful, they start to not want to hang around, to increase your difficulty, even. I sure have trained my own spirits to enjoy the hell out of the Internet. They must really get a kick out of debatably useless, limitless bits of infobites, clicking, clicking. Did you know that if humans had the olfactory powers of canines we’d be able to sniff out a Hershey’s kiss in a city the size of Philadelphia?

in the library

My desk is much smaller than a city. But there is the one, much smaller than Philadelphia, I am inventing. It smells, so far, like August, screen doors, sugar snap peas, tire swing, rust. Like library basement and bike ride at dusk. I’m trying to keep my nose to the grindstone, trying to remind the spirits of the smell of their own skin.